Empire, the fifth full-length release from rapper Derek Minor, is the equivalent of Kanye West’s 2013 hit album,Yeezus.That’s the closest example of what I believe Derek Minor has accomplished with Empire. After releasing three full-length LPs under the name PRo, Minor signed to Reach Records, home of Lecrae, Andy Mineo, KB, Tedashii and Trip Lee. When he signed with Reach, the public erupted, a foreshadowing of what they believed the label could accomplish with Minor’s brash and passionate style. After one record with the label in mid-2013, he left to create his own label, Reflection Music Group (RMG). His first release there (and also as Derek Minor), Minorville, became an instant classic at Reach. Minor’s commitment to both developing artists as well as honing his own craft, held off a new record until 2015.
Minor’s next album is finally here. Empire is a unique monster with 16 cuts with just as many collaborations sprinkled throughout the tracks. In terms of production, Minor sticks to his guns, coproducing most of the album by himself. Primary production comes from superstar beatmaker Dirty Rice, with one track one the record done by Reach’s own Gawvi.
The entire album is made to be very theatrical and powerful in the same sense. The two-minute introduction to Empire features bombastic exposition and features Minor speaking very directly about what he’s been dealing with. It’s indicative of where Empire is going.
One solid verse touches on the things people ask him on a regular basis: “Why did you leave Reach? Who’s better, Lecrae, Andy or you? Are you okay now that you’re off Reach?” The answer? Things are just fine, and Empire is a perfect example of just how fine things really are.
“All Hail The King” starts off with a deep bass before the monstrous track kicks in with the hook. It’s almost a complete reaction to topics Kanye West covered on Yeezus, being the best, being a god, being arrogant about your life. From the very beginning, Minor is out to set the record straight and let people know exactly who the real King is. The track includes RMG artist Deraj—on one of his best verses on record —and newcomer nobigdyl.(The latter was Minor’s Tour Manager before Minor heard him spit a verse and told him to pursue music.)
Another powerfully beat-driven track, the title cut is a good summary of Minor’s vision: “They say we won’t need the sun /’cause You gonna light the whole world with Your love / So shine Your light on me / And now You’ve given us a new beginning / You placed us high above and there’s nothing that’s holding us down /This is our empire.” The single “Who You Know” slams in next, with a fast-paced delivery from Minor and a hypnotic beat, while “Kingdom Come” lends itself to an old school jazz beat, dropping vinyl scratch in the background.
“Slow Down” is a continuation of “Kingdom Come,” with possibly the best beat on this whole record. Featuring Reach’s Tedashii and Tony Tillman, the track touches on gang culture, drugs, alcohol, and it’s a convicting, powerful cut. I wouldn’t expect anything else from the trio featured here.
The final three tracks on Empire start with Gawvi’s deep R&B-style fused with “Right By My Side.” Accompanying Minor are rapper Chad Jones and a hook by crooner Anthony Evans,Jr. Another party track shows upwith “Party People,” which features Marty and Fern of SocialClub. The track is sure to be an instant classic at shows, evenwithout Social Club at every date.
The finale, “Until the End of Time,” showcases another dynamic trio, Minor, Lecrae and hyper lyricist Canon, another signing to RMG. The Anomaly rapper’s words permeate just like everything on his own record did. The staying-power of Empire is clear. Derek Minor is more than capable of not only running a solid record label of artists, but making music on his terms, spreading the good news to everyone in his way. Empire is Derek Minor’s best work by far, and 2015 is sure to be a banner year for RMG.